Simon Goes to the Movies Episode 1: The Amazing Spider-Man
When looking through a list of directors, it’s hard to imagine that the producers of The Amazing Spider-Man (which I’m going to refer to as Spider-Man from here on out and if you get confused with the earlier Sam Raimi film then that makes two of us) considered anything about Marc Webb besides the fact that his last name is Webb. I’m not sure what part of 500 Days of Summer convinced them to put him at the helm of an action blockbuster. You could argue that his history in directing music videos is what won him the job, but then again how well did The Green Hornet turn out? As a side note, expect spoilers because if you review a movie and cannot discuss the plot then about half of the review is missing. So, in the spirit of spoilers, let me tell you the end of this review: Spider-Man was bad.
It wasn’t bad in the way that fan-favorites like The Room or DOA: Dead or Alive are bad. I don’t want to get a bunch of friends together to watch this and play drinking games to it. Spider-Man is just exceedingly mediocre, not really worth seeing unless you foolishly made an oath when you were twelve that you would see every superhero movie that came out in theaters and now you have to go, no matter what.
The world that Peter Parker lives in is a shocking one. We’re led to understand that he’s not the nerdiest kid in school (as evidenced by his cool-guy skateboard moves, his ruffled hair and his contact lenses) and there’s even a scene where he follows around two nerds to learn more about how his weight will effect the speed of his web swinging. But when he goes to Oscorp to talk to his father’s mysterious one-armed former partner, he’s suddenly smarter than all the other wunderkind interns. He then proceeds to build web-shooters1 from scratch so I’m not really sure how smart Andrew Garfield’s Peter is supposed to be.
But don’t worry! Super genius Gwen Stacy is here to bail his ass out, which mostly means that she builds this anti-Lizard formula because that’s what high school students do; they concoct serums that can reverse genetic mutation. A lot of the interactions between Gwen and Peter seem like they’ve been ripped from a mumblecore film (“I liked kissing you”). Their first date is dinner with Gwen’s family but wait! Her dad is the police captain who has been hunting Spider-Man!2
But aside from the hip, anti-authority teens who save the day themselves there are the squaresville fogies they have to contend with. Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben does his best with his youth-culture incarnate nephew, who’s too busy searching Bing3 to do things like walk his aunt home. He also gives perhaps the most roundabout “Great power = great responsibility” speech imaginable, probably because everybody was tripping over themselves not to mention things from that other Spider-Man movie that totally doesn’t exist.
But really, the hugest fucking mistake they made was trying to reboot Spider-Man from the beginning. The film tries really hard to be different (he skateboards now and he has contacts) but it mostly fails at this. Dr. Connors has the same crazy conversation with himself that Willem Dafoe had in the first Raimi film and Albert Molina had in the second Raimi film. Peter still shows up perennial douchebag Eugene “Flash” Thompson, although this time instead of beating him up Peter takes it to the rim á la Seventeen Again.
Sure, Peter isn’t a professional wrestler in this movie but wait! He falls into one of the many abandoned luchador rings in New York City and is inspired to become a masked vigilante. There’s the whole angry rejection of Uncle Ben that leads to Uncle Ben eventually dying and the same Spider-Man beating up on muggers bit. This time, instead of the city of New York throwing garbage at the Green Goblin, every single crane operator in New York lines up their cranes4 so Spider-Man can swing by.
Also, whoever thought it would be a good idea to have a character with no lips (the Lizard) deliver a monologue5 should be smacked. Hard. There’s a recent trend in superhero movies of the writers picking terrible characters from the source material (see: the entirety of X-Men: First Class) and Spider-Man proudly continues this trend with the Lizard, a character known for primal ferocity as opposed to mad-science.6
“But wait!” cries the film student, “you’ve only discussed the narrative aspects of the film! Film, as a medium, is a multi-faceted gem.”
“You’re right,” I reply.
But when the multiple facets of a gem are ugly then it only serves to reflect poorly on the whole thing that many more times.
There are several sequences in the film that look like a video game trailer, to the point that one of the people I was watching with remarked “You know what was a good movie? Doom.” There are a couple of continuity errors in the film7, which there are in most films, but I was so disinterested in the story that I could notice them.
There are obviously things I liked about the movie because there were bright flashing lights and I have a heart. As mentioned, Dennis Leary was as good as the script would permit him to be. Also, I like the fact that Spider-Man was grossly outmatched by the Lizard, and remained grossly outmatched by the Lizard. Also I thought that Andrew Garfield got the witty, smart-ass part of Spider-Man down in a way that previous actors and voice-actors haven’t.
But none of this really addresses the question that stuck with me from the opening credits to the end of the film: Why?
Besides the obvious question of why remake Spider-Man, the real question is why make a Spider-Man film at all? Spider-Man is a terrible character. I’m not saying this because I prefer DC Comics to Marvel Comics7 or because I hate people from Queens, but Spider-Man is a marketing scheme designed by out of touch editors to get young people interested in comics again.
The theory behind Spider-Man, in essence, is that he would be a teen hero as opposed to a teen sidekick. That’s why the word tiger appears as a slang term because Stan Lee9 had no clue how teenagers talked and that’s why if you read the original comics they are roughly 80% angst. But Spider-Man isn’t really relatable to most teenagers the same way Batman isn’t really relatable to most non-super powered people.
He’s a genius. He’s smarter than every adult around him and he doesn’t need anyone else, ever. In the history of comics, there has never been a problem he hasn’t been able to fix between his fists and his brains. He’s also incredibly handsome (so I guess that was adapted correctly) and a fundamentally better person than everyone else around him.
Do you know what Spider-Man is? He is the Randian ideal of a man. He is oppressed by a society the refuses to allow him to excel above others despite his natural talent. He is beset on all sides by the inferior men and women who ignore or ridicule him for his intelligence even as he strives to fix the problems they make.
I understand that Spider-Man is an “iconic” character but so are Giant-Man and the Wasp and they left them out of the Avengers movie.
Regardless, the movie is bad and don’t spend money on it, especially in New York where I learned that ticket prices are about 50% higher than is reasonable but don’t worry, it’s still going to be digitally projected.
1 In the movie the webs come from Oscorp, which leads me to wonder: why don’t the police just go to Oscorp and ask them for the name of the guy who bought all the webs that have been left around the city
2 In all fairness to Dennis Leary he was very good considering how laughably bad most of his dialogue was. As long as I’m talking about veteran actors, Martin Sheen did a fine job as did Sally Field. So, props to them I guess.
3 Two things about Bing in this movie: if Peter Parker can build a web-shooter from a watch, why would he use Bing (hint: I know the answer and it probably rhymes with product placement). Also, the Bing searches are far and away the most painful part of the film to watch and that includes the guppy-mouthed sobbing scene as interpreted by Ms. Emma Stone.
4 A guy who must be the King of Cranes sees Spider-Man, and deducing that he is the same spandex sporting hero who saved his kid, gets every single crane operator to move their cranes in sync. The kid isn’t even that cute.
5 The whole weakness theme behind the Lizard’s logic is a little to social Darwin-y to be original.
6 At one point during one of their fights (which takes place in a science classroom) the Lizard stops to mix chemicals into an explosive. Why are there explosive chemicals in a high school science class?
7 See: the teleporting backpack and also the automatic door lock they go to all the trouble of showing you and then forget to put in all the scenes.
8 DC is better, obviously.
9 This is far and away the best Stan Lee cameo because he didn’t talk.